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A Baker's Dozen- A Baker's Dozen- Thirteen of Thirteen of Blackie's Best Gems Blackie's Best Gems Humor, sadness, heroes, Humor, sadness, heroes, memories & inspiration memories & inspiration

Greetings to all! I welcome you to Greetings to all! I welcome you to Blackie's Best Gems. Although many of Blackie's Best Gems. Although many of the events chronicled in this collection the events chronicled in this collection did happen, all of the characters did happen, all of the characters are fabricated Any resemblance to are fabricated Any resemblance to actual persons, living or deceased, is actual persons, living or deceased, is coincidence and not intentional. coincidence and not intentional. All rights are reserved Copyright © All rights are reserved Copyright © January 2013. January 2013. All writings are original creations All writings are original creations from the often troubled mind of Bobby from the often troubled mind of Bobby “Blackie” Banks who lives on the fringe “Blackie” Banks who lives on the fringe of the ghetto in a little berg called of the ghetto in a little berg called Tumbleweed in Washington state. Tumbleweed in Washington state. Most of the tales are chapters from full Most of the tales are chapters from full books. They were selected for inclusion books. They were selected for inclusion in this book because they were popular in this book because they were popular works and received favorable reactions works and received favorable reactions from readers who follow my work. I hope from readers who follow my work. I hope you experience many moments of pleasure you experience many moments of pleasure and are entertained by the stories. I am and are entertained by the stories. I am proud of them. I honor your visit. proud of them. I honor your visit.

This collection of stories is dedicated This collection of stories is dedicated to all the people in this world who to all the people in this world who reach out to others who are reach out to others who are struggling by offering a helping struggling by offering a helping hand or a kind word even when hand or a kind word even when nobody is looking. nobody is looking. Come visit me at : Come visit me at :

1 Share the love; fight the hate; Enjoy your life! Table of Contents Chapter 1-Eddie's Sunrise.......................................................4 Chapter 2-Oh, My God! Candy Bombino Loves Me! ............19 Chapter 3- The Jehovah Witnesses Visit the Group Home...27 Chapter 4- Michael Did Away With Himself...........................30 Chapter 5- Ed Masters Retirement Party..............................35 Chapter 6--Shooting Stars of Memories ...............................37 Chapter 7--My Ghostly Brother Needs to Die .......................53 Chapter 8- Virgil Should Not Drink........................................58 Chapter 9 -Show Me a Hero..................................................64 Chapter 10 -Mystery Canyon Maelstroms.............................80 Chapter 11-Cheerless Jerry...................................................91 Chapter 12-Crosswalk Decisions........................................104 Chapter 13 -Lonely Trumpet Tribute....................................110 I can’t believe there’s not another world where we will sit and read new poems to each other high on a mountain in the wind. Frank O’hara

2 Chapter 1-Eddie's Sunrise “HELP, EDDIE COLLAPSED AND I CAN'T GET him up,” the panicked voice of my neighbor Annie wailed over the phone. I hit the icy steps at full speed, did a fancy spin or two and made it over to the gate at Annie and Eddie's once beautiful Victorian house in less than thirty seconds. The goddamn thing had frozen shut. I jumped the fence and banged open the door.

3 “He's over here,” Annie yelled. I picked up a rumbled pile of what I hoped was still Eddie and hustled down the steps. He had not moved. “Take the Volvo,” Annie called as she caught up to me and put the keys in my jacket pocket. I kicked open the gate. I gently placed Eddie in the backseat and zoomed toward the hospital with Annie calling out directions and warnings a few seconds later. We made it in record time. Four strong arms picked up the unresponsive Eddie, put him on a stretcher and hurried into the Emergency Room. My gorgeous wife picked me up a few hours later when Eddie woke up. We left the white, sterile hospital room with the scene of Eddie and Annie holding hands, still mad about each other after nearly fifty years, blazed into our memories. Eddie had passed out due to a blood sugar problem. Some glucose solved that and normal Eddie returned to the world alert and happy. He looked skinnier every week I noted.

4 The next day, the day before Thanksgiving, I got a call from Annie at school. “Bob, I'm over at the nursing home with Eddie.” “Here in Sequim?” “Yeah, they didn't have any place to put him in Port Townsend.” “I'll be over at one o'clock; it's early release today.” I told my fourth graders about Eddie and they made cards and art work for him. I made it over to the home with a bundle of fourth-grade blessings. Annie started showing the semi-awake Eddie the different cards and pictures created by the tender hearts of my students. I excused myself and headed downtown to get something to eat and just one Irish coffee. I returned and poor Annie had fallen asleep. An IV dripped its medicine into a sleeping Eddie's skinny right arm and the hum of the machines keeping him alive filled the room.

5 “Ann, let me take you home.” “I don't want to leave him, Bob.” “I know, but I'll bring you back tomorrow; the nurses say he'll be out for the night. You have to keep care of yourself.” “I guess, you're right,' she sighed and picked up her thrift store treasure of a coat and wool hat. “You sure you don't mind bringing me back tomorrow?” “Not one bit.” I opened the door for Annie and we entered a different world. A gust coming from the strong wind hit us, blowing snow into our faces. Annie had to grab at her hat which almost blew off. The force of the wind and the amount of snow on the ground surprised us. I had to warm up the car and scrap off the windows as the flakes, coming down hard, filled the dark sky. No other cars moved down the white, lonely highway. My slow moving car made the first tracks through the fresh inches of silent snow and I tried

6 not to imagine how tough a drive this could become. My gorgeous wife compares my driving on a good day to Mister Magoo and I do admit to being overly cautious. It could be the four near-fatal accidents I have lived through, the last being a fun little cruise over a ninety-foot cliff on the mountain pass the year before when my sister and her friend started fooling around and putting sunglasses on her dog. She lost control while I slept in the backseat. I didn't see the wreck; it had been an audio only deal and a near- death experience. Thankful for Annie's words and company, I shifted the Subaru station wagon into four-wheel drive and putted along at thirty-five miles per hour. Few other vehicles were out on the road which helped things. She began telling me their story. “ I was a bit actress in Hollywood in the fifties, if you can believe that,” she started. “I can. Eddie, told me you were a beauty queen.”

7 “You know I was, at least to him. He has always treated me like one. It sounds trite but I knew he was the one from the first time I spotted him... on the set of a movie I had a bit part in. You knew he won an Academy Award didn't you?” “Yeah, I did... Marty, right? I rented that movie and watched it several times when I first met you guys... like what, three years ago.” “Yes, three years seems about right. You do know that you and your wife have been a real blessing to us don't you?” “Well, thanks... we love you both. We agree that you two are most interesting characters we've ever met.” “Wow, characters? What's that mean? What, you think we're nuts or something?” Her reaction caught me off guard. I glanced over at her. She flashed me a grin.

8 “Well, actually...Yeah, you two are kinda nuts but in a good way...You know, artistic nutty that sort of thing.” “ Well, you're not alone in that opinion. You should have heard what the Hollywood crowd thought about us. They couldn't believe we would walk away from all the money and glamour...Eddie couldn't wait to get out of there. He bought all the books, knowing that they would get more valuable with time.” “He told me all about it and explained the collection...Sounds like there are some valuable pieces in there... it's incredible.” “He really likes you. You got him right away, the second or third time you visited...You might not remember.” “I don't.” “Well, he said you started teasing him, giving him some shit. It's when he had fallen and was laid up...

9 “ I don't remember exactly... I owe him so much Annie. He taught me to paint, and like I said, showed me his collection of books and taught me the value of them. I'll never forget him gifting me that volume of Henry Clay bound in buckskin that he left for me in the car.” “So, that's where that went. I wondered but didn't say anything. He thinks of you as the son we were never able to have. Since he got Lou Gehrig disease, I haven't heard him laugh so hard and be so interested in anything as when your wife comes over and tells about you latest dipshit experience.” “She overuses that word, I think.” “I don't, you are our wonderful dipshit hero.” “Oh, now you're starting.” She merely smiled and patted my arm with her gloved hand. “Eddie told me that if I married him, I would never

10 have a day without flowers in my house. Even in his weakest days he hasn't missed a day in forty-eight years. Not one day, Bob. He's my hero, my friend, my lover and I can't stand to see him suffer so... One day last week, he couldn't get up and drew me a red rose in pencil. He gave it to me with an apology.” She turned her head and starting sobbing weakly which made me tear up. I hit a patch of ice on the steepest part of the trip and spun a bit before the tires caught and we kept plugging along. We were down to twenty-five miles per hour but I didn't want this trip to end. I relished being alone with her and following her melodic tales which painted such vivid, happy images. “Eddie could really dance. All the girls said so. Each dance with him became an experience, an entity unto itself. I felt so warm and loved when he held me.” “He claimed that was one of the first things he loved about you, the way you could dance and how you loved it.

11 “You should take your wife dancing more. Of course, you'd probably split your pants, or break one of her toes.” “Hey, do you want to get out here? I'd have no problem leaving an old lady out in the snow, trust me. And by the way, I do a mean Twist and can Limbo with the best of 'em.” She laughed for a couple of miles on that one. “ Tough drive for you, Magoo, huh?” “Yes, sort of,Miss Smarty. Luckily, no cars were out all the way home.” “Thanks, Bob.” She gave me a tender kiss on the cheek. We saw the lights from our quaint Washington coastal town come into view. “I'll call you tomorrow and we'll go see Eddie, I promise.”

12 I woke up in our rented Victorian house freezing. The power had gone out, so I went downstairs and lit a fire. It started popping which turned into a roaring, comforting fire. My gorgeous wife came down to get warm with me. We grabbed some more blankets and headed back to bed about an hour later. I think I got lucky. I got up and added wood to the fire. The power remained off and didn't come back on until around nine am. The weather reports announced even more snow in an area that almost never sees much of the white stuff.

13 Several accidents were reported on the news and a winter warning issued with a strong recommendation to all to stay home and off the highways. “Stay home today, this is one of the worst storms in Peninsula history,” the newscaster said. Annie came over and the two women started preparing a feast. Soon the steaming pots and a turkey roasting away in the oven filled kitchen with delicious smells. My gorgeous wife brought me a glass of wine but I turned it down. “I'm going over to see Eddie today, so none for me.” “What?” they both yelped at once. “You aren't serious? Bob, I called over there and Eddie is doing just fine...We can go when this storm breaks,” Annie said. “I'm serious as a heart attack, me ladies. I'm taking Eddie over a plate. I'm going to drive real slowly and listen to the Seahawks on the radio get their asses kicked again. Don't worry... It will be fine. So hurry up and get this show

14 on the road, I have places to be.” We ate, told stories, and cleaned everything up as a crew. I finished wiping off the counter, dried off the last couple of dishes, threw the towel in sink and let out an impressive burp. “Get Eddie's plate ready, please. I'm heading out to warm up the car.” I buttoned up my coat, pulled on my wool hat and moved outside into a white, silent world. No wind could be felt and but the intense cold made me shiver. Nearly a foot of snow had stacked up on the Subaru's roof and I had to pull on the door hard to get it to open. Amazingly, the little car started on the first turn of the key. I gave it some gas until it idled strongly. Two sets of glaring eyes welcomed me back. I came back inside and they both glared at me. “We forbid you doing this. We both agree it's just damn stupid,” my upset but still gorgeous wife said. “Yeah, maybe for some who don't have my driving

15 ability. It will be fine. I have four-wheel drive and it's only thirty miles. Haven't you seen the commercials? This car will go anywhere.” I hit the road with a picnic basket filled with goodies for my pal Eddie. I made it over with no problem and called up my gorgeous wife to gloat. “Magoo lives. No problem, gorgeous.” “This isn't funny. Get home before we both have breakdowns.” “Worry warts. I'll make it quick with Eddie and be back before it's too dark.” I stopped at the Red Ranch Inn bar for a quick Irish coffee to warm up before heading to the nursing home.

16 Parking near the nursing home's entrance saved some slick steps as I hauled in the picnic basket and knocked off the snow from my boots. I proceeded to Eddie's room hoping he would be awake. Perhaps we could watch part of the game together on TV. The room sat dark and empty. I walked down to the nurse station. “I have some food here for my friend. He must have switched rooms. ” “ Are you talking about Eddie?” 'Yeah, brought him so food...” “Um...I'm sorry, sir. Eddie passed away a little over an hour ago... I'm so sorry. Here's his things. We contacted his wife and she wants you to bring his stuff home.” She reached down, pulled up a clear plastic bag and slid it across the counter toward me. I glanced down and there they were stacked on top of his clothes staring at me. His thick black glasses. I saw him pushing them back up on his nose while reading which I 'd seen him do hundreds

17 of times. I saw his beaming blues eyes filled with laughter and twinkling teases, peering at me through the glass orbs in their distinctive thick black frames. “Sir?..Are you okay, sir?” I looked away from the glasses and focused on the owner of the voice. Through my wet, blinking eyes, a young woman's concerned face came into focus. Her name tag on her blue uniform said Brenda. “Ah...well...excuse me but this is a shock... I had this basket...Sorry.” I had to get out of here. I swooped up the plastic bag and took off. “Sir, sir... you forgot your basket, sir” I turned around still moving and yelled back, “Happy Thanksgiving, Brenda. There's some good food in there.” I picked up the speed and jumped outside sobbing like a toddler. I could barely breathe as I threw the bag in the bag and got the hell out of there. I had come to visit and

18 comfort my friend. I got a bag of rumbled old clothes and what used to be the lens in which he viewed the world. A fucking plastic bag. I found a pay phone. My gorgeous wife picked up on the first ring. “Are you okay?” “No, I'm not. They gave me a bag and his black- rimmed glasses were there looking at me...” I broke down. “Oh, honey...Get home, honey, we both need you.” I started out and got five miles before the state patrolman put on his lights and stopped me. “The highway's closed. There are two jack-knifed semis up ahead and a couple of big trees down. “I've got to get home.” “There's no way man. We hope to have it open tomorrow. Hopefully, before noon.”

19 I turned around. The small town had closed down for the night except for convenience store where I stopped. Next door sat the Ho-Hum Heaven motel where the irritated owner demanded thirty bucks before tossing me a key. I spent the night fooling with the antennas to get a poor picture on the tube where I watched the hated Dallas Cowboys smear the Detroit Lions. I felt hungry bought myself a Swanson's turkey dinner. I heated it up on the motel stove. That's how I spent Thanksgiving, in a dumpy motel room, eating a Swanson's TV dinner with Eddie's glasses looking at me.

20 I made it home the next day. My wife sprinted out to the car and said, “Come with me dipshit.” She grabbed my hand and took me upstairs where she gave me a trip to paradise. I got up before sunrise, built a fire and sat down with my second cup of coffee where I viewed a sunrise filled with colors that stunned me. I looked through the window for a bit before grabbing a jacket. I had to get a better look. I often got up early and took a walk or sometimes even a jog down through the park that hung on the cliff next to the beach. I had seen many sunrises. They were all captivating but nothing like this. I walked over the few feet to Annie's yard. She sat with her head down in the old rocker. Her house needed some repairs and yard work but had one of the best view of the water in town. I waved to her but she turned away, rocked more intensely and gazed out toward the water and the sky exploding with colors. She finally came down the icy stairs while buttoning her

21 coat and stuck her small hand under my arm. We started walking toward the water that reflected an unusual, vibrant combination of colors. We watched in silence until the the colors vaporized. Another masterpiece lost. Annie stretched herself up and gave my cheek a soft kiss. “I've been sitting up all night questioning myself for leaving him. I felt guilty and ashamed that he had to die alone Now, I know, I really know, it's all right. It looked like one of his paintings didn't it? The purples, he always put in the purples.”

22 We arrived at the gate. “Come inside, dipshit. Eddie left you something.” She gave me a big smile. I stood in the living room packed with shelves filled with the hundreds of books that Eddie had collected since their Hollywood days. Healthy plants in all different-sized pots, drawings, paints, pencils and at least a dozen canvases leaning against the walls, the shelves and covering the couch and love seat occupied the room. Some might have called it messy but I had never felt more at home in a house in my life. The place felt alive. Annie handed me an elegantly designed box made of what looked like rosewood. “Here sit down.” She moved some books and paintings to clear a spot for me to sit. “Open it,” she said with toddler-like excitement in her voice. I rubbed the top of the smooth wood and gave her a nervous glance. My hands shook as I lifted the lid. An envelope with my name on it sat on top of a hardbound

23 book. I opened it and pulled out a typed paper that had come from his old relic Remington typewriter. I started reading. I reached in, touched the book with reverence and slowly thumbed through it. I held it up for Annie to see but couldn't make eye contact with her yet. “His very favorite book of all of these,” she whispered waving her hand toward all the books.

24 I continued thumbing through the gift until I heard her sobs in the kitchen as she added more wood to the firebox. I walked in and hugged her. Our spontaneous rocking together for several lovely seconds spoke volumes. I gave her a quite good dancing spin as we broke apart. “Wow, dipshit, not bad at all,” she said with admiration in her voice. “Annie, come have breakfast with us.” She surprised me by immediately agreeing. The wind's intensity picked up as we came down the porch. We got to the gate when it appeared from the beach. It came over us gliding on the wind currents. It circled and hovered next to the 50-foot tall pine tree in the yard. We followed his flight moving the few yards to the base of the tree, our eyes not leaving this grand performance. A strong gust came up and a small green pine cone dropped at my feet. When I looked up the eagle had disappeared.

25 I planted that cone the next day in really wet soil. It took and made roots. Eddie's tree is now nearly thirty feet high in my backyard hundreds of miles away from Annie and Eddie's old place. Its shade covers the windows of my writing studio where a priced first-edition copy of a book is and always will be, on display.

26 Henry David Thoreau's Walden Pond I saw Annie nearly every day for two years after Eddie's Sunset. We took many walks together in the early morning. I convinced her to get a dog. She picked out an Afghan puppy that grew into a monster but gave her much pleasure. She would walk him every morning and it was fun to watch as he pulled her all over the place. She named

27 him Steward, a name I heard her yell perhaps a million times as she chased him through the nearby park. I ended up moving back to Idaho and never saw her again. Eddie and Annie were two fascinating,wonderful people. I think of them every Thanksgiving. The shock of seeing Eddie's glasses on the top of his clothing is an image that will stay with me forever. I will make certain that Eddie's special gift will remain in my family as part of our legacy. Enjoy the special moments is the moral of this tale.

28 Chapter 2-Oh, My God! Candy Bombino Loves Me! CANDY BOMBINO WAS ONE STRONG, tough girl and mature for her age, in all ways. Only ten years old but she already had more than the beginnings of breasts visible beneath the same gray dress she wore almost every single day to Whitman Elementary school. Short, bulky Candy almost as thick as she was tall, rarely talked and had a mean look that nobody, including the teachers, ignored. She wore her jet black hair cropped short and dense wool socks that poked through her tennis shoes. Candy called the Children's Home orphanage home as did three dozen other kids. The huge, old place sat on an isolated hillside near the end of Mill Road, a neighborhood we rarely ventured near. Surrounded by old, large untrimmed trees it looked like something Edgar Allan Poe would have ordered built. Scary place.

29 We always picked her to join in our playground fourth grade football games for she could tackle anyone. If she got her stubby arms around a player he went down and hard. A few guys couldn't get up for a minute or two after Candy smashed them into the hard dirt. I urged her on as she pushed us on the merry-go-round. She would get in the middle of the ride, grab the bars, grunt and start running with her solid, strong legs and husky bottom supplying the momentum. We hung on for dear life as the merry-go-round reached speeds that made us dizzy. One Friday after one of these wild rides, the lunch recess bell rang. The kids jumped off laughing and ran toward the cafeteria for lunch. The lunch staff always served fresh cinnamon rolls on Friday. I had misplaced my coat and searched around for it when Candy came over and stood too close to me smiling. I had never seen her smile before. I didn't know what to say but after a pause said, “Thanks for the ride, Candy. You got us really ripping around today.” She grabbed me in a bear hug and tried to kiss me on the lips. I turned my head and she laid a quick flurry of smooches on my cheek. “I love you, Bobby. You are my boyfriend,” she said still smiling. Dad would give us the belt whenever we cussed at home but nevertheless, my first thought was, “Holy shit!” I knew I was in deep danger. She could break skinny me over her knee if she wanted to. I did the only sensible thing. I ran like hell toward the lunchroom and it had nothing to do with the cinnamon rolls. She yelled after me, words that

30 echoed all around the deserted playground. “Do you love me, too?” Double holy shit! Those words gave me a charge that almost sent me airborne. I flew off and smacked my head into the metal door but that didn't stop me. I sprinted inside gasping for air and lost for what to do. I grabbed my sack lunch, chugged a milk and ran for home. I didn't stop for any of the sixteen blocks , banged through the basement door and collapsed on the couch huffing and puffing like a bloodhound after an all-night coon hunt. Upstairs Mom stopped stirring the cookie batter after hearing my less than graceful entrance. She came hustling downstairs. “Bobby, what are you doing home so early?” she asked still carrying the wooden mixing spoon that had been used a time or two for other things besides mixing peanut butter cookie batter. “I threw up, Mom. Right after lunch. I puked all over the slide outside. So, I came home. I don't feel so good,” I lied. “Oh, dear... Well, get on the couch and cover up. Here, I'll turn on the TV.” She smiled. “I'll go get you a 7-Up and some crackers.” I flopped on the couch and immediately got grossed out by some couple kissing on As the World Turns. I threw off the covers and turned the channel and found some Three Stooges reruns. I felt much better. Mom came down a few minutes later with the pop and crackers. I confessed.

31 “Mom, I lied. I wasn't sick at all,” I said. “What happened then? You can't skip school,” she answered. I told her about Candy Bombino kissing me and saying she loved me and about how tough she seemed. She listened, nodded, smiled and went back upstairs carrying the wooden spoon that luckily didn't find my butt . I blew out some air and watched Moe smacking Larry and Curly around for a near full episode when she called me upstairs. I ignored her to finish the show but she called down, irritated this time. “Bobby, come up here for a second... I have an idea.” “What Mom?” I said as I entered the kitchen “We're going to bake your little girlfriend some cookies.” “Bullshit!” jumped out of my mouth. It was my older brother John's favorite word. This got me a smack on the hand with the wooden spoon. “You watch your mouth, young man. It will be nice. Get the stool and let's get to work.” When I hesitated, she simply raised the spoon. I got the message. We were mixing a huge bowl of batter and with me adding the chocolate chips when she spoke. “So, where does your girlfriend live? Do you know?” “Mom! She is not my girlfriend! She's a Children's Home girl.” “Oh, really?...'Why don't you like her? Do you think she's fat or homely? Or is it because she lives at the Children's 'Home?” she said. “I like her fine, mom. She plays with us and she isn't fat. She is super strong; stronger than any two of us. She has this scary, mean look

32 that would scare the devil, mom. I don't want a girlfriend and kissing and all that junk....” “Get out two more bowls from cupboard,” she ordered. “How come?” I asked. “We are going to make a whole bunch of cookies and take them over to the Children's Home for those poor kids,” she said and smiled. At that moment in time, I hated my mother. “What do you mean, “we”, Mom? I ain't going near that damn place.” SMACK... “Oh, yes your are. Do you want me to take that spoon to your backside? Get the bowls.” This was turning out to be one of the worst days of my life. I looked at Skippy, our pet beagle, sleeping underneath the kitchen table and envied him. We pulled up to the Children's Home in our Nash rambler and Mom straightened her hair and smoothed out her dress. “Get the plates of cookies and be careful,” she ordered. I felt like a man in a western show walking up to his own hanging. “This is bullshit,” I mumbled under my breath. “Say! You watch your mouth,” she said and started up the long set of stairs that led to the old mansion. I balanced the cookie plates moving as slowly as a slug on sleeping pills. I actually heard dark, organ music in the background. This was

33 without a doubt, not one of, but the single worst day of my life. Old, happy Mom smiled at me as she knocked on the tall dark wooden door and waved for me to hurry up. God, I hated her. The door swung open and a handsome, gray-haired man answered. “Good afternoon, Madame. How may I help you this fine day?” he said to mom. “Bobby and I made some cookies for the kids and are dropping them off,” my stupid mother said all happy sounding. “ Well, what a surprise...That is so kind and loving. Thank you so much. The kids will go wild over homemade cookies,” the man said. He acted all happy, too. I handed him the plates of cookies but Mom kept one. He nodded and grinned at me. I may never smile again, I thought. “Oh, one more thing, sir. Could you have little Candy Bombino come down here for a moment?” Mom asked to my absolute horror. “Why.... of course,” said the startled man. I seriously doubt anyone in history had called her 'Little Candy' before. Mom glared over at me, evidently reading my mind. The door creaked open and there stood 'Little' Candy. 'Big Hunk' would have been a better name. “Hello, Candy. My name is Dorothy. I am Bobby's mom and we brought these cookies just for you.” She handed the unsmiling Candy a full plate of cookies. Candy gave me her mean look and mumbled

34 “Thanks.” She turned and started to close the door. “One more thing, Candy. I do not allow Bobby to have any girlfriends. He's too young. He really likes you and I hope you will understand. His Dad and I just don't allow it,” Mom said and Candy nodded. “ 'Bye, Bobby,” Candy said with a wide smile. We got down the stairs and I grabbed my mother in a hug. “Thanks, Mom. You are the best mom in the world!” “Get in the car. You are grounded for the weekend. You're going to mow the lawn and weed the entire garden by Sunday night and no TV,” she said without looking at me. I didn't care. “That was pretty smart mom,” I said. “Don't you ever doubt your mother again.”

35 Chapter 3- The Jehovah Witnesses Visit the Group Home I WALKED DOWN THE RICKETY basement stairs of the group home like normal when I heard some voices and peeked around the corner. There sat Tom and two men in black suits, crisp white shirts and ties. All three were each holding a Bible. “Oh, this is going to be good,” thought I. “Hey, Duke, I'll be with you in a minute. We’re just reading the Bible,” said Tom after noticing me. “Okay, Tom,” I managed to get out before drawing a little blood by biting my lower lip. I ducked my head back and tiptoed to a decent vantage point. I had to see this. I found a gap through the wall next to the washing machine and prepared for the show. I was not disappointed.

36 The older of the two suits began with a reading from Matthew something and the other followed with his reading from the Book of Revelations. They had obviously done this before. Before they could start on the next part of the script, Tom interrupted. “You know, what does God think about smoking? You know, that guy who stuck his head in here, he’s my counselor and we... well, we like to go all over the place and smoke. Hell, sometimes, I think we would like to have a smoke up on the moon.” Complete silence... Until Tom continued undaunted, “Are there any stories in the Bible about midgets? I think about midgets sometimes. In fact, there was this one midget who could beat anyone and I mean anyone, in 8-ball at the bar. He won so many games that they threw him into a garbage can and kicked him down the alley. I had to run down and get him out. His hair got all mussed up, but he seemed okay. Anything about midgets in here?” He started thumbing through the Bible way too fast. I heard a synchronized, emphatic, twin thump as the two Bibles snapped shut and both men rose as one. “Oh, we have to get going. Nice to meet you.” They hustled up the stairs with bedazzled looks on their faces that to me were priceless. “You’re coming back tomorrow aren’t you?” Tom yelled up at them. The only answer came in the form of a slammed door at the top of the stairs. “Hey, Duke, it’s time for a smoke.”

37 Tom bolted up the stairs taking them two at a time. I caught him on the porch as he took his first puff off one of his roll-your-own cigarettes he loved so much. “Hey, what’s with those guys? They don’t know nothing about the Bible,” he shared with me. “I don’t know. It sounds like you're doing some cartoon talking today, huh?” I said. “Nah, I just wanted to know if there were any midget stories…Do you know?” “I don’t think the Bible has any midget stories. I could be wrong. But let’s make certain of dropping the cartoon talk. I’m not into it today.” “Okay, I’ll watch it. Ready to go?” he said. He suddenly smashed out his smoke and took off toward the car. Halfway to Starbucks he said, “Them guys know nothing, nothing, I mean nothing, about the Bible.” He talked politely, appropriately and courteously with everyone for the rest of the time we spent together. All his comments were proper. He thanked me for the outing as I dropped him off. “No, thank you, Tom,” I murmured as he entered the group home out of hearing range. I had witnessed something rarer than a solar eclipse. The forever memory of seeing two Jehovah Witnesses running from a home! What a delightful blessing. I chuckled in spurts all the way home.

38 Chapter 4- Michael Did Away With Himself THE PAIGES LIVED DOWN three doors from us in a typical, clean little house of the time. Cathy Paige, three years older than my pals and me, had blossomed early. A forbidden blonde who liked to water the back garden in her pink bikini on hot summer days. We would spy on her with binoculars as she got her tan. She wore almost a permanent smile as the sun gazed down on her body often stretched out on the cheap plastic lounge chair. She fascinated and kind of frightened us, too. Michael, her older brother, appeared to be nearly the opposite. He normally wore blue jeans and a long white shirt even on the hottest August days. He often sat in the shade and read for hours. He would always wave at us and called us each by name. Michael, a big guy, had never joined us in any sports or play. Except for one time.

39 He strolled up to the baseball diamond with a new Nellie Fox bat and hit us fly balls and grounders one day. He cheered our good plays and kept hitting the ball toward our eager gloves. He waved to us and headed home with his white shirt drenched with sweat. I ran up to him and said, “Michael, that was really neat. Thanks for giving us so much practice. By the way, that is one cool bat...I’m going to try to be as good as Nellie Fox someday. Will you come up again?” “You can be that good, Bobby. I know you can.” He smiled and touched my ball cap and nodded. He never did return. On a still blistering hot night, I stood in the front yard watering the trees and bushes, a favorite job, in the dark. I heard Michael's pickup start up and looked up as the red Chevy pulled by me. I gave an eager wave and he returned it, with an added little honk of his truck horn. He turned right, drove down a half a block to the alley and turned into it. I heard the motor stop as he parked under his carport.

40 I came up early the next morning and noticed Mom looking out of the kitchen window for some reason. I joined her. We spotted an ambulance and a police car in the Paige's back driveway. “Mom, what happened?” “I think Michael did away with himself,” she answered. I raced downstairs and turned on the black and white console. I tried to follow the plot of Sky King through my teary eyes. The Huckleberry Hound cartoon came on but I didn’t feel like laughing so I turned it off. I sat in silence in the dark and cool of the basement. I had never known anyone who had died before. The Jensen brothers came running down the stairs. “Michael killed himself! He put a hose into his window in the carport and filled it with gas fumes from his truck engine. That’s what Dad said,” spoke Mark.

41 I sprang off the couch and opened up the basement door. We made it outside in time to see the ambulance and cop car leaving the alley. We saw Cathy and her mom hugging and rocking. Mr. Paige, an older version of his now-gone son, came out and softly guided the two into the basement. The three of us were totally mixed up and didn't know what to say or do. We finally headed to the shed next to our tiny back patio and got out our whiffle ball and bats. We headed out to play our usual game when Mike spotted something on the table. “Look at that you guys.” I ran over and there on the top of the picnic table sat a nearly new baseball bat. I picked it up and held it. A Nellie Fox model with its famous thick handle. Sweet Michael had left it for me. Nellie Fox in action I polished that bat and kept it with me under my bed for years. Six years later as a senior, I took it out the night before the big game against cross-valley rival Clarkston and swung it. I used it in the game, went

42 four for five and knocked in the winning run with it in the top of the eighth inning. I never used it again. I held it up in the evening sky as I left the field as a tribute to Michael. The rumor was that he wanted to become a Catholic priest and help people and change the world. But something must have happened for him to give up on his dream and he had hid his suffering but even in his pain, he thought of leaving me a last endowment. With that gift, I indeed had become Nellie Fox, for one day at least. The special bat will always be with me. It sits against my wall with all my baseball memorabilia to this day. Thank you, Michael. We never spied on Cathy again.

43 Chapter 5- Ed Masters Retirement Party Ed Masterson worked on rotating crews at the mill and ended up getting a permanent job at the mill pond where the logs coming to the plant were stored until needed. This particular job took some strength and athletic ability. I got a position on the pond for my last summer and worked with Ed. The job resembled a fireman's. Lots of idle hours and other intense, dangerous times with shifts that left the workers exhausted. Ed did his job well but for some reason that I couldn't figure out the other permanent workers scorned, ignored and made mean comments about him behind his back. I tried to be friendly with him and even gave him some treats during the down times. He never said much. I had about two weeks to go before heading back to college or the hippie commune, when he came up to me. 'I'm retiring this Friday after 35 years. Would you come have a beer with me at Campbell's to celebrate?' he asked me.

44 'You can count on it.' Friday came and I saw Ed sitting by himself in a corner booth at Campbell's Corner after his last shift. I ordered a pitcher and grabbed a couple glasses and sat down. I poured old Ed some beer and then excused myself. I called Janice, my steady girlfriend and told her the scene. We made up a plan on the spot and I returned to Ed. We sat there in silence as Ed, a man of few words, sipped his beer. I didn't know what to say. I noticed that every time the door opened his head would turn. About fifteen minutes later sweet Janice and her friend Debbie came in carrying a bag. The two girls gave Ed, who they had never met, a hug and pulled out the cake and ice cream they had purchased. I smiled and winked at Janice who smiled back. The young women served the few in the bar a plate of cake. A few minutes later, a short, pudgy woman with her hair tied in a bun wearing a recently pressed sleeveless dress came in and sat next to old Ed. “Hi, I'm Sally, Ed's wife.” Janice gave her a piece of cake. She nodded at her and said, “You are very sweet, child.” The pitcher of beer sat empty. “Ed, want another pitcher?” I said. “No, son. I gotta get home. Thank you and your lovely girlfriends for the cake and ice cream.” He shook my hand firmly. “Congratulations on your retirement, Ed.” “Yeah, thanks,” he whispered. Sally smoothed her dress, grabbed his arm and escorted him out the door. They never looked back.

45 Not one fucking person from the shitty mill crew came to his retirement. Not one damn handshake from a coworker. It turned out to be a lesson in petty vindictiveness that I have never forgotten. That poor, sad man. Thirty-five years of service and it ended with a long-haired hippie temporary guy and two sweet girls he had never met giving him his only tribute. I read his obituary in the paper less than two year later. Final thoughts: I found out that Ed had been fighting cancer for over two years after losing his only son, Vincent in Vietnam five years before his retirement. He had some outbursts and yelled at people a few times on the job. For that, the entire crew of simpletons toasted him and some of them had worked with him for over a quarter of a century. Ed looking at the door every time it opened was heartbreaking. This was a act of cruelty that I will never forget. Those bastards taught me how vile humans can be. Why I ever let sweet Janice get away is another sad story.

46 Chapter 6--Shooting Stars of Memories Hello, strangers. I have been practicing reliving the future. While mediating one early morning some memories came blazing in from my subconscious to my frontal lobe, exactly like shooting stars. Come watch the show. I swear these are all true, except for the ones I made up or embellished beyond recognition.

47 I ENTERED THE empty preschool classroom and there sat poor little Traci. The teacher noticed me and nodded at Traci who jumped up like a puppy off its leash and ran toward me. I opened my arms and she jumped in. “Traci, you know better than to run in the classroom! And remember from now on to use your inside voice when class is in session,” flowed the words from an unsympathetic, unsmiling set of terse lips. I wanted to give this teacher a quick lesson in leaving my little five-year old dear alone but instead ignored her and sprinted out to the van at full speed as Traci held on and giggled with delight. We drove along without a word on the country road leading to our home when she blurted out, “Bob, let's just keep driving on straight forever.” I thought that seemed like a great idea. A few months later, after her mom and I had the big break-up after a rocky year or two, I saw her walking near my fourth grade classroom

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